Around sunset, drums began to pulsate — the sound radiating across Laguna Beach’s Main Beach. Like a blooming flower, an umbrella opened, then another, then another, until 1,000 had been opened.
Elizabeth Turk’s “Shoreline Project” on Saturday marked a continuation of her “Seashell X-Ray Mandala” series. For each LED-illuminated umbrella, the Newport Beach artist X-rayed mollusk shells and configured the images into mandala patterns.
The beach exhibit was part of the Laguna Art Museum’s sixth annual Art & Nature festival, which ran Thursday through Sunday.
Mandala — meaning “universe” in Sanskrit, a language of ancient India — is an art form in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. In some religious conventions, mandalas represent a universe in balance with itself. After being painstakingly created, it is nearly immediately destroyed.
At first, the crowd of volunteers Saturday awkwardly jumped up and down with the umbrellas. Slowly though, they extended across the beach. Some waved their umbrella gracefully, as if it were an extension of their arm. Some flicked their umbrella’s lights off and on to the drums’ cadence.
Some participants came from down the street, some were from Los Angeles, Florida and Reno. Some were in their 80s. Some brought children barely toddling.
The project included about 100 professional dancers from seven dance companies to interact with and provide choreography for other participants.
“One thing I asked all the choreographers to do was to think about how we can present … different ways to use the umbrellas so that people might be able to join in as well,” said lead choreographer Lara Wilson.
“The umbrella is kind of freeing because it [takes] the focus off the individual … and it’s more about the organism of 1,000 umbrellas than it is the one,” Wilson said.
Many participants said they wanted to be part of an experience bigger than themselves.
Some danced with friends, some with family, while others danced with strangers, forming new bonds through the shared experience.
“It really does feel like you’re part of some sort of animal,” participant Julie Curtis said. “You feel like you’re part of a social group … or herd.”
Left. Right. Backward. Forward. Spin.
Slowly, leaders emerged and groups began to choreograph basic dances.
“You can feel the energy of the people around you, which enables you to participate and then move forward with another idea,” said professional dancer Taylor Unwin. “You feel supported by the people around you.
“I felt like I was there to facilitate … to inspire people to join in and to feel what it feels like to be part of a collective,” Unwin added. “[By the end of the performance] there was less of a divide between the audience and the dancers.”
Children played with one another, running along the shore, dragging their umbrellas behind.
Conga lines of at least 100 people formed along the shore. Waves crashing over ankles and toes were greeted with smiles and laughter.
A young couple sneaked a kiss under a black-and-white umbrella. They were still, while the kinetic energy of 999 umbrellas moved around them.
People formed large circles and ran forward to collapse them and then outward to expand them, like lungs inhaling and exhaling.
Turk said she set out to “create experiences inspiring joy, laughter and generosity.”
The next day, she released aerial footage of the exhibit to the participants. From above, it took a form reminiscent of stars or bioluminescent jellyfish.
“You see the different groups forming around the beach,” said Jennifer Rosenfeld, who came from Santa Monica to take part. “All these adults are just playing and having fun.”
Turk’s mother, Jill Robbins, waved her umbrella along with the others.
“I’m most proud of [her] sensitivity to nature [and] her desire to bring people together,” Robbins said of her daughter. “And I think she did it tonight.”